Baby Umbilical Cord Falling Off – What’s Normal?

Baby Umbilical Cord Falling Off - What's Normal

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

As a parent, I understand that your newborn’s health is your #1 concern.  When it comes to your own baby, even simple things like the umbilical cord falling off can seem like a major medical emergency!  If you have concerns about what’s normal when it comes to the umbilical cord falling off, hopefully this blog post will ease your mind.

Umbilical Cord Falling Off  – Dry it Out.

umbilical cord falling off - Silver nitrate swab
Silver Nitrate swabs.

Typically, the umbilical cord will dry out on its own without any intervention.  Expose the cord to air and don’t submerge the baby’s naval area in water until the stub falls off.

However, sometimes the cord needs a bit of help to dry out.  I recently brought our newborn to the pediatrician for her routine check up when she was 3 days old.  The doctor felt like her umbilical cord was a bit too moist and “oozy.”  Fortunately, there were no signs of infection (foul odor, yellow-green drainage, redness, warmth, etc.).  With my permission, the doctor applied a treatment of silver nitrate to the base of the umbilical cord using a cotton swab.  Silver nitrate works to cauterize and dry out the moist tissue (1).  This seemed to do the trick, and the umbilical cord remained infection-free and mostly dry from there on out.

Some providers may recommend wiping the base of the cord with rubbing alcohol and a q-tip to encourage the cord stub to dry out.  However, research suggests that the use of alcohol may not speed up the process of cord drying and that it’s better to simply let the cord dry out on its own (2).

Umbilical Cord Falling Off – Say Goodbye to the Stub.

The umbilical cord stub typically falls off within 1 to 2 weeks after the birth (3).

Or…you might accidentally help it along!  When my baby was 7 days old, I laid her down to change her diaper and onesie first thing in the morning.  I didn’t realize that the umbilical cord had some drainage overnight.  The cord stub had adhered itself to the onesie when the drainage dried.  As I pulled off the onesie, I accidentally pulled her umbilical cord stub off with it!  Oops!  It must have been very loose at that point, because the stub came off easily and it didn’t bleed.  She didn’t cry or seem bothered by it.  Farewell crusty cord!

Call your pediatrician if the stub has not fallen off within 3-4 weeks.  A small amount of bleeding that stops quickly can be normal when the stub falls off, especially if it was tugged off.  Call your pediatrician if you notice any active bleeding.

baby umbilical cord falling off - umbilical cord stump.
Shriveled and blackened umbilical cord stump.

Umbilical Cord Falling Off – Don’t Freak Out About the Hole.

The initial appearance of the umbilical cord wound can be a bit disturbing.  It may appear raw, fleshy, and lumpy.  Despite its gross appearance, chances are it’s perfectly healthy and normal.  Don’t hesitate to call your pediatrician if you see any signs of infection:  redness, swelling, foul odor, yellow or pussy discharge, etc.  A scant amount of blood-tinged fluid may ooze out of the hole.  This is normal.

The following picture shows my daughter’s umbilical cord wound directly after the cord fell off.  I’ve included pictures of what her belly button looks like as the wound healed progressively over the course of the next few days.  It won’t be long before it starts to look less like an oozing sore and more like an actual belly button.

baby umbilical cord falling off - moist new belly button
DAY 1 – The umbilical cord stump has just fallen off. The belly button appears moist and a small wound-like area is visible. This is normal! I cleaned the perimeter of her belly button using a moist Q-tip.
umbilical cord falling off - day 4
umbilical cord falling off - day 10
DAY 10

The umbilical cord falling off can cause parents some worry.  Be sure to monitor for signs of infection, and contact your provider if you have any concerns.  However, often umbilical cords look worse than they really are!  So, say goodbye to the stub and trust that in a short time baby will have a sweet little belly button!

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(1)  Olds, S., London, M., & Ladewigh, P.  Maternal-newborn Nursing:  A Family and Community-Based Approach.  6th Edition.  Prentice Hall Health, New Jersey, pg 28.

(2)  Dore, S., Buchan, D., Coulas, S., Hamber, L., Stewart, M., Cowan, D., & Jamieson, L.  Alcohol versus natural drying for newborn cord care.  Journal of Obsstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs.  1998.  Nov-Dec; 27(6):  621-7.

(3)  Simkin, P., Whalley, J., Keppler, A., Durham, J., & Bolding, A. (2010). Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: The complete guide. Minnetonka, MN: Meadowbrook Press, pg 368.

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Meet Katie Griffin

I’m a registered nurse, Lamaze certified childbirth educator, and the mother of 7. I help women realize their dream of a natural, intimate, and empowering hospital birth.

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As a parent, I understand that your newborn’s health is your #1 concern. When it comes to your own baby, even simple things like the umbilical cord falling off can